8 tips for boulder bashing (aka keeping projects rolling)

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There is nothing worse than a project that makes you feel like Sisyphus.  You know, the ancient Greek guy who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down the other side.  We all know the feeling.

I do a lot of work across countries, timezones and operational teams.  Keeping projects moving is one of the singular goals (and joys and banes) of my existence*.  These might be no-brainers, but these are my 8 tips for keeping projects moving, even when you’d rather give up and just go home.

1. Be realistic about timelines
Projects always take longer than you expect.  And there is nothing more demoralizing and energy draining than endless delays and missed deadlines.  Think…really think…about what (and who) it’s going to take to get your project done. And plan accordingly.

2. Talk about roles and responsibilities
In tasks that require a group, don’t assume you know whose going to do what.  Be explicit.  And be accountable.

3. Catch up regularly
This is particularly relevant for teams spread across locations or online based teams.  Keep a basic work in progress document or action items and hold a weekly or bi-weekly catch up to keep the team on track and motivated.  Weekly accountability, even informal, keeps momentum and makes problem solving easier.

4. Make the goal real
If the team knows what they’re contributing to, it helps.  Particularly on internal projects, where deadlines slip the most.  Seriously.  Being a cog in the machine is utterly soulless if you can’t see how deadly important your specific cog-i-ness is the smooth functioning of the machine (and if you don’t know what the machine is doing in the first place, then you’re really borked).  Metaphor tortured enough?

5. Empower your team to make decisions without you
Every project hits a wall when a decision needs to be made.  And if oneperson (usually busy) is the only decision maker, you’re basically waiting around until they can get to you.  If your team feels empowered to make the day-to-day decisions, but know to come to you with the big ones, you’ll have far more momentum.

6. Put a deadline on the big decisions
If you’re not able to reach consensus quickly, ask the senior member of the team to make a call and put a time frame on the final decision, whether it’s an hour or a day or a month.  Endless debate stagnates a project, but appropriately swift decision making can really move things along.

7. Call time
If a project isn’t going anywhere, take some time out to think about why.  Either have the courage to shut it down and move on to something new.  Or consider what – or who in the team – needs to change to get it back on track.

8. Look back
This is probably the one step that’s most underrated. At the end of each project, look back.  What helped move the process forward and what held it back?  Which were the bad decisions – and there are always bad decisions – and what might you have done differently (with more time, or less pressure?) What can you take into the next project?

Any to add to the list?  How do you help to keep your team on track?

*particularly because these lovely people are generally working on my projects over and above their day jobs.  Did I mention how lovely they are?

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